Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Why Frank Miller is a fascist writer

At the risk of beating a dead horse, I want to back up a statement I made two weeks ago about Mr. Frank Miller; namely, that "I have questioned whether Miller is a fascist before." That post led to a whole crapload of good comments and I appreciate it, but I stayed out of the fray for the most part. Iron Lungfish made excellent points about why I made that statement, and I want to elaborate on what I see in Miller's work and why I think the way I do.
Please note: this is not a reflection on the quality of the work. Some of Miller's work is brilliant, and some is not. I'd also like to define "fascist." For a good lefty like myself, "fascist" might mean simply right-wing, and I could piss off all the conservatives out there by defining it thusly. However, that's not really what I mean. "Fascists" generally lean to the conservative side, but couldn't we call Stalin or Castro "fascist" if we really wanted to? When I say "fascist," I mean a few things: total devotion to "the state," meaning a governing power that knows better than we do what is good for us; a tendency to see the world in black and white, which comes in handy occasionally, but can also override everything else; an element of misogyny, as fascists tend to be men (of course, most people in power are men, but I'm concentrating on fascists here), which is of course a subset of the dominance of the state, but fascists, as I define it here, have even less respect for women than they do men who oppose them - at least the men are acting "manly"; and an element of racism - "fascists" think their race is the Chosen Race, and all others are meant to be dominated. So that's a fascist. Let's go to the videotape!

I want look at only a few of Miller's work: The Dark Knight Returns, The Dark Knight Strikes Again, and 300, with occasional references to other stuff. Why? Well, obviously, this stuff best supports my thesis (ha!) but there's another reason. First, the two Batman books are perhaps his best-known work (before the arrival of the Sin City movie, maybe), and they are also two books where DC allowed Miller some free rein, certainly far more than they would have allowed on a "regular" Batman title. 300 is probably Miller's best creator-owned work, so I want to look at it here. I have not read Sin City, so that gets a pass. I only own the first issue of the Martha Washington series, so I can't speak to that. His work on Marvel is too constrained by editorial mandate, but I will glance briefly at that magnificent wacky book once called Elektra: Assassin (before Marvel got squeamish and renamed it). And I'm not going to mention the abortion he's writing right now for DC. Maybe if we don't speak its name it will go away.

So. There you have it. Why do I call Frank Miller a fascist?

Let's start where Iron Lungfish did, at the end of The Dark Knight Strikes Again. Brian recently made the statement that it's better than you think, and after re-reading it a few days after he posted, I agree: it is better than I remember, but it's still problematic. Brian mentions that Miller puts Superman through a lot of crap because "he wants Superman to be BETTER by the end of the series, and he IS." I must respectfully disagree. Miller puts Superman through a lot of crap because Supes is insufficiently fascist, and by the end, he IS. Unconvinced? Well, Supes does his thing because Kandor is being held hostage. Fine. Batman even acknowledges that this is a decent enough reason. However, Batman (Miller's hero) immediately puts a plan into action that saves the Kandorians. We can admire Batman because of his decisiveness, and Miller is pointing out that Clark has become weak and ineffectual - he needs to learn how to be a "good hero" again. Lara, his daughter, shows him the way, when she makes the case that they are so much above humans that it's unfair to hold them to the same standards. A whiff of the übermensch is unmistakable, and it's pretty clear that Miller is saying that Supes should embrace this philosophy, not turn away from it. Superman finally does embrace it, and his last words in the book are: "What exactly shall we do with our planet, Lara?" I'm not sure which is more chilling: that Superman now considers this his planet, or that Miller admires him for his change of heart. This is one of the core beliefs of fascism: that there are beings on this planet that know better than anyone how to run it, and we should cede our authority to them. Whether or not Superman would make a benevolent dictator is beside the point. Batman, and by extension Miller, is saying that we need heroes back in this world - not to inspire people to be better, but to rule them because they're too stupid to do it themselves. It's no coincidence that Miller uses the horribly wrong-headed depiction of Diana as Super-Warrior from Kingdom Come instead of how she should be depicted - as an ambassador of peace. The Fascist Diana fits in much better with his worldview.

I have posted about comic book writers and their fascination with dictatorships before, but with most of them, they seem to say it's a good idea but it always goes horribly wrong and we need to restore democracy. Miller doesn't do that. He leaves us believing that Superman and the rest of the heroes are the best caretakers for the planet, and although people have accused me (and the others like me) of not seeing ASB&RTBW as the riotous satire it is, I don't think Miller is being satirical here. Especially when you consider The Dark Knight Returns. The argument could be made that Miller is specifically NOT being fascist in that book, in that Batman is fighting against the system and trying to bring down an oppressive government. Sure. However, the two most famous fascists in history, Mussolini and Hitler, also fought against the government. Hitler was convicted of treason, after all. Fascists don't necessarily like the government - they think they can do better. Batman, in DKR, talks often about building an army. He has given up hope that his society can be redeemed by non-violent, democratic means. It can only be purified by struggle, and he is the man who knows how to fix it. Many people have wondered if DKR even necessitated a sequel. I am among those, but if we look at it as a polemic about building a perfect dictatorship, DKSA becomes essential, because at the end of DKR, Batman has not achieved his goal yet. He has exposed, perhaps, the decay of the old regime, but he has not completed his journey. There will be no sequel to DKSA, because Miller has done what he set out to do - shown us that only through the iron will of heroes can our world be saved - and those heroes are not regular people, they are extraordinary beings. We should all just do as they say, because they know best.

You can say that these books are simply superhero wish-fulfillment, but it's worth noting a few other places where Miller expresses a desire for a governing presence that takes all the responsibility out of our hands. Elektra: Assassin is a glorious mess, and a book that I don't take seriously at all, but it's interesting that at the end, the rogue SHIELD agent (Garret?) has switched minds (don't ask) with the president, Ken Wind, and he now has his finger on the button and is loving every minute of it. Yes, I know it's satire, but it's still something to point out. More troubling is Miller's excellent 300, the subject of my very first Comics You Should Own, back when 5 people were reading my blog (our very own Brad Curran among them) instead of the 15 who do now. I think it's a pretty good essay, actually, but that's just me. I don't want to rehash it too much, but Leonidas, the Spartan king, is presented in the same way the heroes are in DKR and DKSA - a benevolent tyrant, knowing what's best for his men and demanding strict loyalty. Yes, it's an army, which is supposed to be that way, but Spartan society was structured along those lines, and when the Spartans talk about being "free," it's almost laughable, as Sparta was one of the most repressive of Greek societies back then. What separates Leonidas the Spartan from Xerxes the Persian is not their ambitions - to bend men to their wills - but the scope of those ambitions - Xerxes has the wherewithal to attempt conquering the known world, while Leonidas does not. Miller's work here shows a slight bit of racism - the Spartans are much lighter than the Persians, and Xerxes, especially, looks very African instead of Asian. The Persians consider themselves as the Master Race, but Miller makes it very clear that the Spartans are truly better - not necessarily because they are "free," but because, being "free," they choose to subvert their personalities to the Glory of the State. This is a subtle way to approve of fascism without coming out and saying it, but reading 300, it becomes more and more obvious that Leonidas and his Spartans are simply exercising a different form of fascism than Xerxes and his Persians - a local kind, perhaps, which makes it more acceptable?

This idea of will to power goes hand-in-hand with seeing the world in black and white. Batman is the living embodiment of this, and the fact that Miller's Batman has become the general template over the past 20 years or so annoys me, because he wasn't always this way. Batman refuses to accept compromise - he's almost Rorschach-ian in this regard, and Moore certainly didn't intend Rorschach to be an admirable figure. Miller, however, does set up Batman as the pure hero, who has not compromised his values for some meaner goal. As an aside, this is why I worry about Miller's Batman vs. Osama bin Laden project - if it's a question of simply going after the architect of September 11, I don't have that big a problem with it - I think it trivializes the event, but I'm not morally opposed to it. If, however, Miller uses it as an opportunity to set up an "us-vs.-them" situation, where "us" is the aggrieved United States and "them" is the entire Muslim world, then I would feel squeamish about it. Miller has certainly shown in the past that he sees the world in black and white - at least in his fiction, he does - and that, applied to the real world, often doesn't work.

The last thing I would define as "fascist" is a general disregard, bordering on hatred, of women. You can disagree with me, but I think power over "the other" - in this case, those crazy broads - is a central tenet of fascism, because "the other" (it obviously can include any group not your own, but most often it's women, followed by homosexuals, then blacks and/or Jews) is something you don't understand and therefore can't easily control. Who the hell knows what's going on with those crazy broads - they don't even see the beauty of a good hunting expedition! Miller writes women poorly. That's not a huge surprise - many male comic book writers have trouble with women. Look at poor Wonder Woman (or go read Marionette's blog or Ragnell's blog for their excellent thoughts about her) - male writers can't even decide on a basic personality for her. At least Batman and Superman are pretty consistent depending on who's writing them, but Diana gets a new personality every time a new writer takes over. So it's not terribly surprising that Miller can't write women well. What is interesting is that he really only writes two kinds of women - the woman who exists to get killed, and the woman who is really a man. In the first example, we have Elektra. Yes, she exhibits a lot of the "manly" attributes I will get to, but really, she exists to get killed so that Matt Murdock can feel bad about himself. Selina Kyle in DKR is another example. She doesn't die, but she's simply there for the Joker to beat her up so that Batman can get good and angry. All of his other important women (Vicki Vale in the latest series doesn't count, again because of editorial mandate) are really men with tits. Sorry to be so crass, but it's true: Carrie Kelly becomes Robin; Ellen Yindel becomes Jim Gordon; if the Sin City movie is to be believed, all the women are either getting killed (Marv's hooker) or really men (Rosario Dawson); Martha Washington is sexless; Leonidas' queen shows no tears when he leaves, instead giving him the old chestnut about returning with his shield or on it; Diana is a butch warrior. Weakness, in Miller's fiction, is a feminine characteristic, and therefore the women he admires cannot exhibit that trait and therefore become more masculine. Those who are weak males he makes androgynous - the Joker, Dick Grayson, Xerxes. This uncomfortableness with strong, feminine women is an attribute of fascist thinking - women are either feminine creatures with whom manly men have sex, or they are butch tough guys. Sure, Wonder Woman has earth-moving sex with Superman, but we can't imagine her acting feminine during it - she is essentially a female mirror image of Superman, which lends the whole thing a strangely masturbatory air to it. Some might say that Miller is idealizing women - all of them are the perfect sexual match for the men they're with - but I don't think he is. He's destroying their femininity - they are perfect matches because, as I mentioned, they are mirror images of the male hero. It's unsettling, but fits in with the idea that Miller doesn't understand women, so he doesn't write them. Not really.

Am I generalizing? Sure. I'm sure (and kind of hoping) that commenters will point out where I'm wrong. And I have no idea what Frank Miller is like in "real life." He could be the greatest guy in the history of the universe. I'm also not necessarily commenting on how good he is. 300, in particular, is a wonderful book, partly because it's disturbing. And DKR is brilliant, while DKSA is at least interesting. I just felt that my off-handed comment needed to be explained a bit more. At least Miller gives us all something to talk about!

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76 Comments:

Blogger Iagorune said...

Greg.

That’s an interesting and well thought out examination of the underlying politics of Frank Millers work.

Unfortunately, and I mean this with all due respect, it’s a bunch of hooey.

See, you are accusing Miller of being a fascist, but the problem is that what you are using as your definition of fascist simply isn’t correct.

Let’s start with the American Heritage Dictionaries definition and go on from there.


Fascism: "A philosophy or system of government that is marked by stringent social and economic control, a strong, centralized government usually headed by a dictator, and often a policy of belligerent nationalism."

But what you wrote was…

….total devotion to "the state," meaning a governing power that knows better than we do what is good for us; a tendency to see the world in black and white, which comes in handy occasionally, but can also override everything else; an element of misogyny, as fascists tend to be men (of course, most people in power are men, but I'm concentrating on fascists here), which is of course a subset of the dominance of the state, but fascists, as I define it here, have even less respect for women than they do men who oppose them - at least the men are acting "manly"; and an element of racism - "fascists" think their race is the Chosen Race, and all others are meant to be dominated. So that's a fascist. Let's go to the videotape!

Now obviously the idea of total devotion to the state is a fascist ideal, although it is also a Communist and Monarchial ideal as well, be that as it may. And certainly the idea of a master race fits into several of the sub-levels of Fascism, especially Nazism. But seeing the world strictly in Black & White is not a fascist ideal, it’s actually the basis for Objectivism as preached by the likes of Ayn Rand and Steve Ditko. If nothing else Fascists have proven themselves over the generations to be a practical lot when it comes to recognizing that shades of gray exist. Especially when those shades of gray work out to the advantage of the fascists themselves

Hitler being more then willing to overlook the homosexuality of several of his top people, as long as they were useful to the Reich, or Mussolini’s agreements with the Vatican to allow the Catholics to remain in power by supporting the fascist government from the pulpit, are both good examples of fascists compromising and looking at the world in subtle ways and certainly it shows that say unlike a Maoist or Khmer Rouge, Fascists are able to see shades of gray, at least when it works out to their advantage.

Finally your idea that by it’s very nature fascism is anti-woman, just doesn’t hold up when you figure that during the 1930’s in both Italy and Germany, women overwhelming supported the fascist government and were active members of the party. Consider the likes of politician Margherita Sarfatti in Italy or even Leni Riefenstahl for that matter over in Germany and it gets pretty hard to argue that fascism is anti-woman.

Now about Frank Miller.

In your piece you used the Dark Knight Returns, the Dark Knight Strikes Again, and 300 all as examples of Miller having a fascist nature. But honestly I just don’t get your point at all, most specifically because at least in the case of the two Bat books, Miller is clearly making the case that sometime the common man needs to stand up against the state because invariably those in power will be turn out to be either incredibly stupid or incredibly evil. And it is only if the common man stands up for what’s right will the state be controlled by the people and not the other way around.

Miller is making a clear call for people to control their own destinies.

I will grant you that Miller does tend to see the world as Black and White, good and evil. But is that really fascism or is it maybe more of an example of either libertarianism or it’s cousin objectivism?

Certainly it is possible to stand against the state but to still believe that there is such thing as absolute right and absolute wrong. And let’s be clear here, while certainly there are all sorts of examples in life of situations being colored by shades of gray, there are also plenty of examples of black and white.

Classic example: Try to come up with a morally ambiguous reason to rape and murder a child.

You just can’t do it, because the act is by any stretch of the imagination evil. Even if you claim that the killer/rapist is insane and not responsible for his actions, it doesn’t make those actions any less evil.

In Sin City, which I have read and as such will feel free to use in the discussion, Miller has all sorts of heroes who walk in their cold little Noir world, people who commit actions that might be considered “evil” in some contexts, but who actually follow a strict code of right and wrong. And the same thing is true in Millers superhero books as well.

Despite everything, in DK 3, Batman doesn’t kill the Joker.

Although I also have to admit that this seems to have changed a bit when Batman congratulates the Hawk kid for executing Luthor in the second series. Or for that matter when Superman and his daughter talk about what to do with their world. So maybe you might have something there with the character of Batman and Superman becoming a fascist under Miller, but I don’t think that makes Miller himself a fascist. After all Miller has long been very public in his view that the concept of Superheroes themselves are fascist and he also made clear in several interviews that in DKSB that he was exploring that very concept.

But even then with the exception of the Bats/Superman situation the rest of the heroes from Green Arrow to the Question on, all act like, well, heroes.

Well except for Robin, which I admit I did get a kick out of.

And speaking of which I will grant you that Miller does seem to portray effeminate men as evil, which while not fascist, is certainly not nice.

Finally I don’t agree with you about Fascism and women or Frank Miller and women either.

Fascism in the 1930’s did believe that everyone in the state has a specific role to play and that the role women played is different then men, but that’s not any different then any other type of culture or government throughout the entire history of humanity up until the mid-1960’s. But women were not more suppressed under fascist states then any other type and it should be noted that in the case of Italy there were several top Fascist women politicians. And in Germany, women were actively recruited into the Party as well.

Sure these folks hated ”the Other” but “women” as a group just weren’t who they were focused on.

And as for Miller and women, come on, Carrie Kelly in both books is a great character, full of life and depth who is both heroic, but still comes across as a totally convincing kid. Martha Washington is smart, cynical, competent and brave. Electra was nuts, but was also the first really truly dangerous woman ever to appear in comics, something that many people forget these days. And while I do think that Miller planned to kill her all along, I also think that Miller also planned on her resurrection at entire time too.

Does he always hit the proper note?

No.

But at the same time Miller has written women who had depth and life in them as characters and not just someone to pick on.

As for 200 I don’t see that one as fascist either, although the entire point that the Spartans are betrayed because they rejected a warrior because he was disfigured might point that way. If of course it wasn’t for the fact that Miller is retelling a historical event as it was originally reported, so you can’t really blame him for that one.

I’m sorry that my debating skills are a bit rusty, so I might not be backing up what I’m saying very well, but I really have to say that looking at what I’ve read by the man over the years, that I just don’t think your argument holds up.

Is Miller a Conservative with Libertarian tendencies, or the other way around?

Sure, almost certainly.

But being conservative, cranky and convinced in the concept of good and evil is just not the same thing as fascist.

- rick

3/01/2006 02:03:00 AM  
Blogger MarkAndrew said...

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1560975288/sr=8-1/qid=1141198492/ref=sr_1_1/102-0105189-1614513?%5Fencoding=UTF8

This here is an Amazon listing for The Comics Journal Frank Miller special which contains a bunch of interviews where he discusses his politics.

And HERE

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1569717559/sr=8-1/qid=1141198576/ref=pd_bbs_1/102-0105189-1614513?%5Fencoding=UTF8

Is Eisner/Miller, where he discusses his work in pretty extensive detail.

Having read both of these:

(A) Miller calls himself a liberal. (This is block quoted on Jog's blog on February 17th.)

(B) His work isn't trying to reflect the human condition. It's pure melodrama. Miller cheerfully admits to this, and contrasts his stuff to Eisner's recent work, which DOES try to create fleshed out, three dimensional characters.

If you want to continue this line of argument, you pretty much gotta read both of these.

On the other hand, if you DO read both of these, you won't have much of an argument.

3/01/2006 02:43:00 AM  
Anonymous Martin said...

Iagorune: Miller did a recent interview (I think it got linked from either this site or another much like it a few days back) in which he repeatedly stated that Elektra is, as far as he is concerned, dead.
Repeatedly - like at the end of every sentence for a while. It would be charitable to call it "overstatement".
So, while it's one way or another whether Miller is a fascist by anyone's standards, the question of misogyny in his writing is a lot nearer the surface and, I think, apparent. Why make Selina Kyle a prostitute? It's indicative of a trend of misogyny within his work - particularly within Sin City and Dark Knight Strikes Again.

3/01/2006 05:06:00 AM  
Blogger ninjawookie said...

Classic example: Try to come up with a morally ambiguous reason to rape and murder a child.

-----------------------------------
Unless it suddenly became socially acceptable as a collective in a different time or place. Some animals probably do it.

i can;t think of any absolute goods, devoting your whole life to help another may still constitute as an act of selfishness in order to make oneself feel better about her/himself - i think that was touched upon in superheroes and philosphy -good read!

3/01/2006 05:28:00 AM  
Blogger Chad said...

I've been awake less than an hour and I don't feel I'm truly awake enough to reposnd to a lot of this. It's interesting.

There is one thing I think I will respond to. You talk about the end of DKSA and Superman's rather chilling statement about what he and Lara will do with their world and you jump to the conclusion that Miller approves of that worldview.

That's a big leap. A writer can end something with a note like that and not be endorsing it. Just because Miller chooses to depict Superman leanign towards godlike superfascism doesn't mean that he, Miller, feels it's a good thing. He might very well have intended it to chill you. He might have been making a commentary on the nature of power and its seduction.

Sure, Miller could be saying "Superman just needed to take charge!" but he might also be saying "The struggle against dictatorship is eternal. Remove one dictator and another will fill the void. And aren't you fucked if the next one is Superman?"

To be honest, I read that at the end of DKSA and thought "Ahhh, so he's planning a third series".

3/01/2006 06:42:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I enjoyed the essay Greg, but for many of the same reasons as iagorune, I think it is ultimately in error.

I don't think Miller sees the world in black and white. Based on my readings (and I've admittedly read a lot less of his work than many), I see him as believing that morality is entirely a social construct. He champions strong individuals who typically reject their world's moral code (and the real world's as well--I doubt many would consider the Batman of DKR a hero if he really existed) and create their own. He doesn't necessarily believe in total allegiance to "the state." Rather he believes that people with incredible talents are more important than "common" people, and that they should not be fettered by the mediocrity that surrounds them. Whether this compels the Übermensch of Miller's works to rule or exile themselves from their society depends on the situation.

To simplify, I think it's much more persuasive to label Miller as a Nietzschean writer than a fascist one.

3/01/2006 09:28:00 AM  
Blogger joncormier said...

Greg, this is a great post. I wish I had the time to write this when I was voicing my own concerns over The Book That Shall Not Be Named.

As much as I like a lot of Frank Miller's work, it's a very young man-simple world view take on fiction and the world. The men are tougher than tough and the women are all virgins or whores - the "best" are truly men in women's bodies.

I have a strange relationship with his work. The more I think about it, the less I like it. But when I read it, I can get caught up in the story very easily. I'm always left wondering if if I actually like the protagonists. DKR is one of my favourite books, but I don't really "like" Batman in it. And while I appreciate his crusade, I don't know if I condone his actions.

This gets repeated in the other works I've read by Miller, although I'm definately not a completist by any stretch of the imagination.

There's always one critic who quotes a dictionary isn't there?

3/01/2006 09:46:00 AM  
Blogger T. said...

I also get shocked that so many people think Miller is conservative. I never thought of him as such. Look at how he portrayed Daredevil and Batman, very many shades of grey. Daredevil always battles inner demons and becomes a grim and gritty character. He depicts pornography, prostitution and heroin addiction in a mainstream comic using Karen Page, and has DD shrug off her past like it was a traffic ticket. Has always been vocally against mature readers label regardless of content, whereas I think most conservatives would think that mature comics should have warning labels. His regular glorification of sexuality and corruption, etc. I can't exactly seeing much of it going over well in a group of conservatives. Not much in Sin CIty you can show at the next Young Republicans meeting.

I agree with Iagorune that Greg uses the wrong definition for fascism. I've seen that incorrect definition before, mostly on Wikipedia. Fascism in general has so many contradicting definitions over the years that it's come to be too broad to be of any use. I think what Greg means to describe is better covered by the term "Totalitarian." Totalitarian is a term that describes total control of all aspects of life by an individual or government party. You can be right-wing or left-wing and be totalitarian. I think Miller is overall a libertine liberal, but because he has extremely tough views on crime and terrorism many progressives assume he must be right-wing.

I'm glad someone pointed out that interview where he states himself that he's liberal, because I feel that the issue can finally be put to rest.

Before I accuse Miller of fascism, I'd use other "isms" first, like racism, sexism, narcissism and misogynism.

3/01/2006 10:04:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Fascist? No, just gangly and effeminate.

Have you ever seen a tv interview with the guy? I was totally suprised at how shy and soft-spoken he was.

I think by spending a lot of time speculating you're giving more attention to something, either the man or the work, than it probably deserves.

3/01/2006 10:54:00 AM  
Blogger T. said...

As long as we're talking about creators and their politics, read my blog entry about my exchange with Paul Jenkins about the politics in Generation M and give me your opinions.

It's been a while since I shamelessly plugged. How I missed it.

3/01/2006 11:10:00 AM  
Blogger Iagorune said...

ninjawookie said in regard to my suggestion of that there are extreme examples of Black & White Morality, i.e. child rape/murder……..

Unless it suddenly became socially acceptable as a collective in a different time or place.


Implying that just if an act is embraced by a culture as something good, then it stops being evil.

Which, while I’ll admit is the kind of thing that gets said in Sociology classes to demonstrate the cultural biases on what is and what isn’t moral, is also completely untrue.

Cultural acceptance of an abhorrent action does not make that action any less abhorrent or for that matter evil.

The Aztecs were very supportive of ripping the beating hearts out the their enemies as a sacrifice to the Sun God, and found it to be a moral and just action, but that doesn’t change the reality of the dead guy at the foot of the alter without a heart.

And least we forget, the folks at the Wannsee conference who went about their business, completely convinced that what they were about to do was for the good of all civilization.

There are actions that are evil, no matter what the people committing those actions do to convince themselves of their own morality.


Some animals probably do it.

Animals are not moral or immoral, good or evil.


i can;t think of any absolute goods, devoting your whole life to help another may still constitute as an act of selfishness in order to make oneself feel better about her/himself - i think that was touched upon in superheroes and philosphy -good read!


Honestly I have never accepted the argument that there is no such thing as an act of absolute good if the person who commits the good deed feels good about committing the act. First because it creates what I see as the false argument that the only reason we do good deeds is to make ourselves feel better. And second because there are all sorts of easier ways to make one feel good about oneself then feeding the hungry or getting killed while running into a burning building to try to rescue an old woman.

The fact that there is an inborn satisfaction in doing what’s “right” doesn’t invalidate that there is such a things as “right” or “wrong”.

- rick

3/01/2006 12:20:00 PM  
Anonymous X-Height said...

Lots of interesting things in the comments that bear close to correcting the misread IMHO and I will make this brief. There is fine line between examining fascistic elements at work in genre, which is what I think he is up to, and presenting a fascist world view. Post his first DD run much of his work develops a distance from the characters as organic psychological realism and even beyond melodrama and looks toward iconic representation. The Sin City works are a sort of comfort spot for him in that it was free-er than Superhero works of implicit ideology which I think for a time he wanted to put aside.

Miller is like S. Kubrick in this concern about the individual in the coercive world of symbols and power relations. In that sense I agree with a comment left here to "label Miller as a Nietzschean writer than a fascist one."

3/01/2006 01:00:00 PM  
Blogger Greg said...

First of all, everyone, I don't necessarily think Miller is fascist, as I pointed out. He writes fascist stuff, but he could be a raving libertarian, for all I know. I will say that just calling yourself a "liberal" doesn't make you one. No matter how you feel about our current president, he's not a conservative, at least not in the classic sense. So Miller saying he's liberal doesn't make it so.

Rick: I wanted to address your comments, because they're the longest, obviously, but they give me lots to think about. I don't mind if you break out the dictionary definition of "fascism" - that's perfectly fine, and T. makes a good point that maybe I should have used "totalitarian" - "fascism" just sounds better. And sure, "black-and-white" concepts of life are more Randian, but to say that governments don't practice what they preach with regards to policy. Nazi Germany certainly took a stance of "get the gay out," no matter how many in the High Command were putting from the rough! As for women, you certainly make a good point. Mussolini's Italy, however, was never very good at being fascist, and Nazi Germany was very keen on keeping women in their place, whatever that place may be. Anti-women doesn't necessarily mean getting rid of them - how would the fascist paradise survive? - but it does mean keeping them subservient to men. Leni Riefenstahl was certainly subservient to the Nazis - I seem to recall when she died, the news reporting that she had never renounced anything she did for them. Just because a regime is anti-women doesn't always mean women don't like it.

As for Miller, I can't agree with you that the Dark Knight books are about the common man standing up for themselves. Even on the fringes, it's about clamping down on society - Jim Gordon leaves the scene partly because he isn't tough on crime anymore - and Miller openly mocks anyone who even hints that criminals might not be in control of their actions. I'm not advocating a touchy-feely approach to crime, but we still don't know a lot about the brain and what it does to people, and to say that someone is always in complete control of themselves is foolish. The common man has virtually no impact in Dark Knight Strikes Again - the common man is crushed in Metropolis under the boot of the superheroes and their little games. As for the end - maybe Miller is setting us up for a sequel in which Superman's dictatorship comes crashing down, but it doesn't feel like that. I could be wrong.

As for his women - yes, Carrie Kelley is a fine character, as is (from what I read) Martha Washington. My point is that they're not women. They're men. That's all. Miller can't deal with women, so he turns them into men. This fear or confusion over "the other" is, as I see it, a tenet of fascism, and that's why fascists need control. But that's just my view.

And as T. says, he DOES glorify sex and violence. However, this may disqualify him from being a conservative, but it doesn't disqualify him from being a fascist. Fascists use anything they can to subvert people to their ideal, and Hitler certainly believed in the crucible of violence and fetishism to build his perfect society. Miller goes a little to the extreme, but I don't think his use of, say, the Superchix in DKSA means he's not using them to bend the common man to his will - at least in that book.

Again, I'd like to point out that this doesn't reflect at all on Miller as a person. I haven't read those interviews MarkAndrew pointed out, but I don't really care if Miller is liberal or conservative. I'm just looking at the writing.

3/01/2006 01:05:00 PM  
Blogger Greg said...

And yeah - Nietszche is probably a better role model for Miller. But the Nazis liked Nietszche too (even though they misread him).

3/01/2006 01:06:00 PM  
Blogger David said...

As for his women - yes, Carrie Kelley is a fine character, as is (from what I read) Martha Washington. My point is that they're not women. They're men. That's all. Miller can't deal with women, so he turns them into men.

I'd like to explore that a bit further - what is it exactly about those two which defines them as "men"? They're both courageous, independent, athletic, and heroic. What's an example of a female character who is written more as a woman, in your eyes?

3/01/2006 01:56:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

David (above) has got it right. When you accuse Frank of writing women as men with boobs on because the female characters don't conform to the limited set of qualities you concieve of as "feminine" in attitude and personality, you're saying alot more about your limitations as a human and a critic than Frank's limitations as a writer.

3/01/2006 02:34:00 PM  
Anonymous Thad said...

Not much in Sin CIty you can show at the next Young Republicans meeting.

Actually, the incessant glorification of torture in Sin City goes over great with that crowd.

3/01/2006 03:19:00 PM  
Anonymous The Cosh said...

I've not read through all the comments yet, but my initial thoughts are: interesting and well constructed, but you really are doing a lot of stretching just so you can shoehorn in every problem you've ever had with Miller's writing.

For what it's worth, I have always seen him as a right-wing extremist. Rather than a balls-out "fascist", however, the view I have constructed from his work, Batman in particular, is more along the lines of a backwoods survivalist lunatic. A sort of shrivelled, comics Unabomber, if you will.

3/01/2006 03:39:00 PM  
Anonymous The Cosh said...

RE: Sin City

Sin City has always seemed to me to be nothing more than a middle-aged man's wank fantasy.

The popularity of the film merely proves that this coincides to a remarkable degree with the average adolescent boy's wank fantasy.

3/01/2006 03:41:00 PM  
Blogger Apodaca said...

"There are actions that are evil, no matter what the people committing those actions do to convince themselves of their own morality."

This is simply not true. Actions are defined by us (whatever the current society is), and whether they are 'good' or 'evil' is not an eternal fact, but a temporary representation of the collective unconscious. Society dictates what is good and evil, and we agree because we are society.

The Aztecs' sacrifices are only evil from a perspective other than their own. The only reason we see it as evil, is because we feel comfortable in our opinion that their religion was not based in fact. We can deny the worth or righteousness of their actions, only because we do not believe them to ever have been worthy or righteous. But they were in their society, and did not commit acts of 'evil'. Morality is wholly subjective.

3/01/2006 05:02:00 PM  
Blogger Greg said...

Well, shit, Anonymous, are you Frank Miller's love child or something? I don't think I've ever personally insulted anyone on this blog, and if I have, I'm sorry, and that includes T., with whom I rarely agree. But you hide behind your anonymity and suggest I have limitations as a human being just because I have some issues with Miller's writing? What a fucking tool you are. Thanks for contributing to the discussing, asshole.

As for what David said about the female characters - they're "courageous, independent, athletic, and heroic." Yes, they are. I don't have a problem with the way they are characterized. In Miller's writing, however, I have noticed that he turns attributes he dislikes - weakness being the biggest one, not surprisingly when you consider he's writing about superheroes - and makes them more feminine. The Joker, Dick Grayson, and Xerxes are all certainly androgynous. "Weakness" in a physical sense is definitely a feminine trait - I think we can agree that men are generally stronger than women. GENERALLY - if I got in a fight with Laila Ali I wouldn't have to think too long to know who's going down. But all of Miller's females are strong, which is fine in itself, but the males he doesn't like are weak in body - Ephialtes in 300 comes to mind - he's deformed so of course he must betray the Spartans. None of Miller's heroic females are particularly nurturing, either - again, that's not really a problem, but since you asked what I consider female traits, there we go. This bugs me especially when it comes to Wonder Woman - I've already mentioned that I don't like the "Kingdom Come" version of Diana, and think that her mentorship of Vanessa in the George Perez issues is an excellent part of her personality that is rather un-masculine.

As for a good example of female characters in comics - well, shit, do we have many? Simply because Miller's not the only one with this problem, it's hard. If anyone wants to read a very good man's take on women, go read Sam Kieth's Four Women. They are different people with different personalities, but they are all unmistakably female.

Boy, what an asshole. Sorry, that just pissed me off. I guess I have to tell my wife and two daughters I have to go live in a cave because of my limitations as a human and because I don't suck Miller's dick all the time.

3/01/2006 05:36:00 PM  
Anonymous Jesse said...

I woulnd't personally call Miller a "fascist" because to me superheroes are an inherently "fascist" idea of might makes right. I read DKR as more of a deconstruction of superheroes being larger than life and placed above us mere mortals than a "fascist" screed. True, Alan Moore handled this much better in Watchmen and Miracleman, but Alan Moore always handles everything better.

As for the Batman vs Al Quaida book, everything about that screams that it's about as serious as those Superman punching Hitler golden age covers.

And from all the interviews I've read of Miller, his own politics seem to be pretty Libertarian, though with a left leaning. Not hardly "fascist" at all.

3/01/2006 06:36:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wasn't it Orwell who said that "fascism" has now come to mean, simply, "something bad"?

I think the dictionary definition cited here is not a good one - there's more than one dictionary, after all, and if you look at the etymological root (bundle of sticks), fascism seems to imply "strength in unity" more than anything else. Which obviously can be a horribly dangerous principle, regardless of the system it expresses itself through! But, if one is to have "strength in unity", how better to get it than to adopt (or enforce) a black-and-white worldview? Um...I hate to say it, but it's easy for me to see Objectivism as something that has a thick streak of fascism running through it, too, like fat in meat: "pity for the guilty is treason to the innocent" is pretty clearly a plank that anyone could use to build a totalitarian regime on, if they wanted to. Fascism loves absolutism, surely; isn't it hard to deny that?

So I don't think Greg's analysis can be dismissed on that basis. I really do not think Miller is a fascist, but to claim there's a lot of fascist shit going on in his comics is no stretch...I won't claim anything like this, myself, because it doesn't particularly intrigue me to do so, but that doesn't mean Greg doesn't have a point. An interesting point. I think Miller toys with it more than he espouses it, but that's just me.

And by the way, Rick: what does it say about me that I can't think of the good in pedophilic snuff scenes, but that I conversely really don't have a problem with the Aztec sacrifices? Sorry, I believe that there's lots of black and white out there, too, but it's only black and white to me, because I mostly embrace my own cultural norms, even to the extent that I consciously choose to prefer some of them, too! I don't know what the hell any of the rest of you are up to, presumably you're pretty close to me in the degree to which those norms influence you, but you're also obviously not identically informed, because the cultural value-stances available to all of us are far from being perfectly rationalized and self-consistent. I've picked mine; you've picked yours. We probably agree about most things. But if you say the baby thing and the Aztec thing are equivalent in your mind, I humbly submit that you're not placing things on much of a continuum, and that's a form of absolutism to my mind, that I consequently can't endorse.

Different strokes!

Fascinating rebuttal, though.

3/01/2006 08:25:00 PM  
Blogger Iagorune said...

"There are actions that are evil, no matter what the people committing those actions do to convince themselves of their own morality."

This is simply not true. Actions are defined by us (whatever the current society is), and whether they are 'good' or 'evil' is not an eternal fact, but a temporary representation of the collective unconscious. Society dictates what is good and evil, and we agree because we are society.

The Aztecs' sacrifices are only evil from a perspective other than their own. The only reason we see it as evil, is because we feel comfortable in our opinion that their religion was not based in fact. We can deny the worth or righteousness of their actions, only because we do not believe them to ever have been worthy or righteous. But they were in their society, and did not commit acts of 'evil'. Morality is wholly subjective.



Sorry to turn into Steve Ditko here, but while that was a good solid answer that would guarantee a good grade in a sociology class, it is never the less completely wrong.

While I do agree that there are many actions that are judged as good and evil based solely on what society decrees is good and evil, that doesn’t change a bit that despite that there are still actions that no matter how much a society attempts to justify those acts to themselves, remain evil.

Murder of an innocent is always evil, no matter what a society convinces itself that their God wants them to do. No matter how humble or good a person considers themselves to be, if they knowingly participate in the slaughter of innocents they are committing what is an intrinsically evil action.

And there are other examples.

Is this a case of me forcing my version of morality onto another culture?

Yes almost certainly, but there is nothing that is going to convince me otherwise.

-rick

3/01/2006 08:38:00 PM  
Blogger Greg said...

Damn you, Rick, for making me give up baby-killing! And just when I was getting good at it ...

I think one of the problems with saying things are inherently evil is that, with very few exceptions, it's tough to find examples. You choose a very extreme example, and I have no problem with it. It's when we start to extend that argument to things we really have to struggle with, like abortion (to pick a common one), that we get into trouble. Even human sacrifice - do we know if the sacrificed aren't willing, thinking they're going on to a better world? I wonder. Not having ever sacrificed anyone (or been sacrificed), I can't say.

3/01/2006 10:17:00 PM  
Blogger Stephen said...

I agree that Greg's definition of fascism is probably not the best one. But I think we can do better than the dictionary, too -- and that if we do, Greg's argument is borne out if it's dialed down just slightly to: there are strong fascist strains running through Miller's work.

Robert Paxton is a leading scholar of fascism; here's his definition of fascism (which I'm taking from here):

"Fascism may be defined as a form of political behavior marked by obsessive preoccupation with community decline, humiliation, or victimhood and by compensatory cults of unity, energy, and purity, in which a mass-based party of committed nationalist militants, working in uneasy but effective collaboration with traditional elites, abandons democratic liberties and pursues with redemptive violence and without ethical or legal restraints goals of internal cleansing and external expansion."

So: is Miller a fascist? I'm not sure. But some characteristics of fascism are definitely present in his work. (I should note that I'm not as familiar with Miller's work as most here -- I'm thinking mostly of DKR here, the other Miller I've read being Ronin & a few Sin City vols.; haven't read DKSA or 300.)

Miller definitely is preoccupied with community decline -- the air of decline is all over DKR. What Batman sets up is clearly a "compensatory cult of unity, energy, and purity", and Batman's eventual detente with the police is well-described as a " uneasy but effective collaboration with traditional elites." But the clincher is the end, the abandonment of "democratic liberties and [pursuit] with redemptive violence and without ethical or legal restraints goals of internal cleansing and external expansion." The entirety of DRK is an argument not only against democratic niceties (all the satire of people who are concerned about civil liberties, for example) in the pursuit of stopping violence, but for a very specifically redemptive violence, a violence which purges and elevates. This is, for me, the center of Miller's fascist tendencies: the critique of democracy, in particular given his sort of critique (that it simply allows urban, cosmopolitan decadence, that it blocks necessary, powerful action), and his glorification of violence as redemptive.

Other fascist elements in Miller's work would include his focus on the strong, heroic leader, not mentioned in that particular quote of Paxton's but which he and others discuss elsewhere (see e.g. here, although really as characteristics of fascism go it's pretty obvious.)

Incidentally, the whole 'redemptive violence' thing is why people tend to say superheroes in general are fascist. But, just to pair DKR with its near-contemporary work, that's precisely what Moore so effectively critiqued in Watchmen: redemptive violence (as well as the cult of leaders, etc.) But that's another topic.

In sum: I think Greg's right, and I think a sharper definition of fascism would ultimately help not hurt his case. No need to retreat to 'totalitarian' here.

3/01/2006 11:55:00 PM  
Blogger MarkAndrew said...

"I will say that just calling yourself a "liberal" doesn't make you one."

Yes.

But discussing your political philosphies in damn near minute detail for three or four BIG pages, and not mentioning anything that would make you a facist,

well, makes you not a facist.

I'll say it again. Between the Comics Journal book and Eisner/Miller, Frank Miller's is THE most prodigiously interviewed writer in comics in the last ten years.

And, having read both these books, I can say with ABSOLUTE certainty that you're completely wrong in all your points.

Homework. Dude. Little bit of homework before you start writing next time, mebbe.

3/02/2006 12:23:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's just a tad tautological, Rick - since "murder" is a word that itself means "the wrongful taking of a life", saying murder is evil isn't that different from saying that evil is evil...since that "wrongful" part must (it seems to me) denote a moral judgement.

But here's my question to you, and it's a serious one: you say that murder is always evil, but how can you tell when murder is murder, and not just killing? And I don't mean "how do you define it?", as in "if they're innocent, then it must be murder, QED", I mean how do you know if what you're looking at is murder? You, personally. The Nazis didn't consider it murder to exterminate Jews, although you and I both would...and do, damn it, beyond all cultural relativism!...but from what you've said, it seems you would also consider a ritual sacrifice carried out a thousand years ago murder, and I'm not so sure I would. So...how do you know when murder is what you're looking at? What has to be present (and what has to be absent) for murder to occur, and why those things and not other things? It seems to me that this is not a "natural" apprehension of pre-existing moral facts, so much as it is the effect of your philosophy, that tells you where the tipping points are and how to distinguish them...there are a lot of people (for instance) who would call what goes on in a slaughterhouse a kind of murder, but I take it (and if I'm taking it wrongly, I apologize) that you would disagree with that contention, on the grounds that the lives of animals don't fall into the same moral category as human lives do...and, fair enough, if that's what you think! But again, my point is, how do you get there from here? Is it that those "meat is murder" people are just as defective in their ability to apprehend natural moral facts as I am? Are you claiming that you just "know it when you see it" by virtue of some kind of divine inspiration or human-specific instinct?

Maybe you would say that I am attempting to force my "culture" on you, now, and maybe I am. But I know why I think slavery and child abuse are wrong - it's because my cultural background has introduced the political/ethical/philosophical idea to me that they may be wrong, and after thinking this over I have decided to make that idea part of my own moral code, so much so that I would be willing to judge others accordingly; even if they in their turn have different ethical beliefs, I would still be willing to say that I'm right, and they're wrong. Because that's my code.

But I don't think it's because they're morally defective in any natural way. And you do, is that what you're saying?

Stephen, that was an incredible comment, I take my hat off to you.

3/02/2006 12:37:00 AM  
Blogger Iagorune said...

Greg,

Hey don’t let me stop you from sacrificing babies, let alone filming it. From what I understand, it’s actually a very acceptable pass time in some cultures. And God knows I don’t want to come across as being a cultural elitist.

Seriously though, I don’t want to sound like I see everything as simple Black & White, because in all honesty I do realize that the vast majority of moral qualms fall completely into those shades of gray we’ve been talking about. It’s just that I do think that sometimes those shades end up going to the extremes of Black & White.

Which is why my examples were so extreme, because in my own opinion it’s only the most extreme examples that really are purely good or purely evil.

Now back to important comic related stuff.

I wanted to go back to your point that Miller either mistreats his women or writes them like they were men, because I as you might have guessed, I don’t see it that way.

You pointed out that Miller turning Catwoman into a prostitute was an example of his demeaning the character. And honestly I have to say that I do agree with you that it was not something that really should have been done. Catwoman has had her ups and downs as a character, but one thing she had always been was if nothing else “classy”. And having her turn out just to be an ex-whore with a bad attitude was in my opinion a real mistake.

However I do also have to say that while this was a mistake I don’t think that it was Miller attempting to specifically “hurt” the character so much as Miller taking one of his first trips into straight forward noir territory. Keep in mind that when Miller wrote DKR and Year One he was reinventing the whole idea of the crime comic while he was doing it. Sometimes this worked out well, as with the Karen Page junkie story line in Daredevil, and sometimes it doesn’t, as with his version of Selina Kyle.

So was it bad writing?

Maybe, but I don’t think that it was a case of intentionally harming a character.

As for his version of Wonder Woman, yes she did come across as the warrior woman and not the princess of peace, but considering the context of the story, I can’t see how she would have been in the least bit believable in any other role. I also need to add that she was integral to one of my very favorite scenes in the book, where she tells the dying Captain Marvel to yell the magic world and to go out as a true warrior.

Personally I thought it was a classic Wonder Woman moment.

As for Carrie Kelly, I’m going to pull the daughter trick out of my hat and say, that she acted a lot like the teenage girls I’m related too and didn’t come across to me anyway as a “guy” at all.

Maybe I’m missing something that you’re seeing there, but honestly I think you’re going to need to explain it to me again.

- rick

3/02/2006 12:56:00 AM  
Blogger Hale of Angelthorne said...

I agree with iagorune that "fascist" is the wrong label, but (not to go all political science or anything) there's more to the definition. Fascism (especially as compared to Nazism) was not obsessed with racial purity. Also, fascists tended to be corporatists; that is, giving all economic power to a handful of noncompetitive companies. Whatever his other faults (like DKSA and Martha Washington Saves the World, which were both excrement), Miller's writing doesn't strike me as very corporatist. In fact, the Martha Washington series could be read as anti-corporatist, almost anti-globalist.
In fact, we may be on a fool's errand in trying to find an over-arching political philosophy behind all his writing.

3/02/2006 12:57:00 AM  
Blogger Iagorune said...

Anonymous wrote…..

It's just a tad tautological, Rick - since "murder" is a word that itself means "the wrongful taking of a life", saying murder is evil isn't that different from saying that evil is evil...since that "wrongful" part must (it seems to me) denote a moral judgement.

But here's my question to you, and it's a serious one: you say that murder is always evil, but how can you tell when murder is murder, and not just killing? And I don't mean "how do you define it?", as in "if they're innocent, then it must be murder, QED", I mean how do you know if what you're looking at is murder? You, personally. The Nazis didn't consider it murder to exterminate Jews, although you and I both would...and do, damn it, beyond all cultural relativism!...but from what you've said, it seems you would also consider a ritual sacrifice carried out a thousand years ago murder, and I'm not so sure I would. So...how do you know when murder is what you're looking at? What has to be present (and what has to be absent) for murder to occur, and why those things and not other things? It seems to me that this is not a "natural" apprehension of pre-existing moral facts, so much as it is the effect of your philosophy, that tells you where the tipping points are and how to distinguish them...there are a lot of people (for instance) who would call what goes on in a slaughterhouse a kind of murder, but I take it (and if I'm taking it wrongly, I apologize) that you would disagree with that contention, on the grounds that the lives of animals don't fall into the same moral category as human lives do...and, fair enough, if that's what you think! But again, my point is, how do you get there from here? Is it that those "meat is murder" people are just as defective in their ability to apprehend natural moral facts as I am? Are you claiming that you just "know it when you see it" by virtue of some kind of divine inspiration or human-specific instinct?

Maybe you would say that I am attempting to force my "culture" on you, now, and maybe I am. But I know why I think slavery and child abuse are wrong - it's because my cultural background has introduced the political/ethical/philosophical idea to me that they may be wrong, and after thinking this over I have decided to make that idea part of my own moral code, so much so that I would be willing to judge others accordingly; even if they in their turn have different ethical beliefs, I would still be willing to say that I'm right, and they're wrong. Because that's my code.

But I don't think it's because they're morally defective in any natural way. And you do, is that what you're saying?




Before I get to far into things, I just want to point out that I don’t want to come across like I am claiming to be the great moral arbitrator of all things good and evil. It’s like I said above, I do think there are all sorts of subjects that fall into subjective morality.

It’s just that I also do believe that despite that majority there are still examples of actual clear-cut good and evil, and that those examples do move beyond the boundaries of cultural, social, religious or familial situations.


You ask me how I can tell if something is a murder or not.

The funny thing is that in reality I probably could do a pretty good job of it since once upon a time about a million years ago, I was in fact a forensics photographer. But obviously that’s not what we are talking about here.

Certainly there are examples of killing that do have moral questions attached to them.

Is it murder if it’s self-defense, or in time of war or when executing a prisoner, or assisting a suicide, or if the killer is insane or several other examples that I haven’t thought of yet. So yes, not every “killing” falls into a clear cut easily pointed out category of good and evil or a simple moral answer.

However, despite the fact that some types of killing are ambiguous doesn’t change that reality that in some cases a killing is straight out undeniable murder.

Go back to my original example, a person who rapes and murders a child for their own personal gratification is committing an evil act and no amount of cultural reach is going to change that.

No matter how you look at it, it is an evil act.

Now I grant you that it is an extreme example, but it is the extreme example that proves the point.

By the way I do have to agree with your final statement, I actually will freely admit that I do believe that some cultures are inherently immoral and wrong and some societies are in fact straight up evil.

I know that in our society we are supposed to try to not judge those who are different, but just off the top of my head I can think of five or six “societies” just from the late 20th century where the very fabric of their culture was monstrous by any cultural template. So you definitely have a point there.

- rick

3/02/2006 01:21:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very satisfying answer, Rick! Thank you for taking the time to meet my question head-on, I think most people would just have restated their own opinion and carefully avoided engaging with my dissenting view. I do appreciate that you took a higher road than that, it makes me feel like we're having a real conversation, and not just marking our territory.

And now here is my response to your response, if you're interested:

I don't think you come across as a nut, here, but I continue to question how your assumptions are formed. What I take from your response is that you do believe that there is a kind of "humanity instinct" that comes into play in sufficiently extreme cases (I do find that to be a coherent position, and I certainly can't disprove it, so I won't be argumentative with you on that front), and that strikes me as being almost like a kind of faith - maybe, the faith we all have to accept in allowing that what moral judgements we do make are meant, and not provisional. We have to at least believe our beliefs, I suppose, or else be reckoned as moral cowards...

However - at the risk of being accused of sociology - do you not think it is largely the influences from your own (I should say, our own) culture, that make you declare some other cultures to be "monstrous" on moral grounds? If the "humanity instinct" exists, then how could hundreds upon hundreds of societies (including the Aztecs - hell, including the Athenians) possibly get things so incredibly wrong, and only a handful of Johnny-Come-Lately democratic republics be able to get anything right? But, and not even then, sometimes: to bring up Nazi Germany again, I think there's no doubt that that society would count as "monstrous", perhaps especially by this argument since it forced otherwise-moral people to commit atrocities that would have outraged that instinct towards humanity that I take it you believe they would have had...but if even Germany is hard to explain, how then to explain all the browner societies, too, and the things they do and did which are somewhat less inarguably black-and-white as the most extreme case, but still black-and-white in your view regardless? Human sacrifice included. And so if I may mention the only part of my question that you didn't address, it seems to me that if there is "natural" humanity in your view, it cannot extend everywhere - the "animal rights" thing at least has to represent an intellectual edge to it that's graspable by the mind, that is justified by some reason: in other words, by some philosophical viewpoint that is ultimately a product of culture, and not nature. This is John Locke as much as the Bible: consider that in the tributaries of Western culture, rape has always been every bit as seriously punishable an offence as murder, but I think in earlier times when women were treated more as property, it was necessarily only the worst crime imaginable against a person's property, rather than a crime against persons themselves...so one could make the argument (I wouldn't, but one could) that the animal-rights stuff is only a difference of degree, there, and not a difference of kind. At least as far as those old seventeenth-century philosophical bastards might think it. Forgive the suggestion of politics, but to the disempowered, all is politics, for women as well as cats; and this is fact not a hundred years old, that men have exclusively held political power in Western society for most of its history, and it's therefore been men who have made the decisions of life and death, for everybody.

My point being: is that rejection of the idea of women-as-property (as similarly the rejection of the idea of slavery, or of child labor, etc.) not a culture-based point of view, rather than a "humanity-instinct"-based point of view? Because the acts that the humanity-impulse pronounces wrong must be circumscribed by something, at some remove from ultimate black-and-whiteness...by some natural affinity or repulsion which if it exists cannot (by your argument) be proved universal to all human beings, and in fact (again, by your argument) is more likely to be proved non-universal, the innovation maybe of some peoples, but not others. And I don't like that, you see, Rick! It offends my belief in the universality of human moral faculties! How much better for there to be common reason rather than common instinct, and reason-based philosophies from which the ideas (and not instincts) of humanity come! That I think women aren't property is a fact I'm grateful to my culture for, and not myself; but if I could know that fact anyway, even if my culture is morally all fucked up, then I'd wonder why I couldn't: why didn't people seem to act on their basic human moral knowledge in the past, I would wonder, and why didn't they act on it in different parts of the world? When they could have overturned everything by moral revolt, like a Boston Tea Party of the soul, on Easter Island as well as in Mozambique, as well as in Scotland as in Poland, or Sweden, or Outer Mongolia?

If I've sounded really pedantic here, then please forgive me. I still can't disprove your belief in the humanity-instinct. In fact I'd like to believe it's true. But doesn't the very existence of all these "monstrous" cultures speak against its existence? I have no answers, but I must think your morality (as well as mine!)is less "natural" than it is conditioned, even though I would rather not wish it to be so. And therefore, to sum up, I disagree with you. Of course I don't expect you to suddenly announce "My God, you're right! I was such a fool!", but will you allow that I have a point here? As pedantic as I've been?

My apologies again; this was not entirely un-rambling and un-incoherent of me. May I say again I appreciate your engaging with my questions, and if I have not shown you the same courtesy I hope you'll bring it to my attention so that I can correct that fault. Cheers, Rick; you're an honest man. This has been a pleasure.

3/02/2006 06:40:00 AM  
Blogger faboofour said...

Iagorune said...

"... there are also plenty of examples of black and white.
"Classic example: Try to come up with a morally ambiguous reason to rape and murder a child.
"You just can’t do it,

Wrong. I came up with three without breaking a sweat.

"...because the act is by any stretch of the imagination evil."

No, just your imagination, Iagorune. Try thinking outside the box: say you have, oh, forty or fifty thousand offspring and not enough of 'em died off naturally to feed the rest, so you have to murder some of 'em the only way you know how, and that way, not coincidentally, gives you the same physical gratification you get from reproduction.

There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are drempt of in your philosophy.

Here's something I've never understood:
IF:
A: Children are innocent and therefore without sin.
B: The only way into heaven is to be repentant for one's sins.
And, therefore:
1: Children who die before losing their "innocence" go directly to heaven.
Then:
Howcum parents don't murder their children to make sure they get into heaven? Even if that act would condemn the parent to "eternal damnation, it'd be the Ultimate Sacrifice and therefore commendable, wouldn't it?

Here's a "truth:" Human beings can find any "reason" behind any act. That is: Just as reason can be used to label a thing "evil", that same faculty can be used to label that same act value neutral or even "good".

(And what I've always found "interesting" is that whenever I offer an alternate "reasoned" label for an act that another person has labeled as "evil," that person invariably labels as "evil" the reasoning itself, and me by extention. Moral: One ought never try to "reason" with people who insist upon the "reality" of "evil," because the inevitable "swift-boating" you'll get in return just ain't worth it.)

3/02/2006 03:51:00 PM  
Blogger faboofour said...

"Go back to my original example, a person who rapes and murders a child for their own personal gratification is committing an evil act and no amount of cultural reach is going to change that."

That was not your original hypothesis. Now you've added "for their personal gratification." Not that it makes a difference, mind you ('cause "reason" can always change any label from "evil" through "value neutral" to "good" and back again), but it's interesting to me that you've found it necessary to qualify your original statement.

"no amount of cultural reach is going to change that.
"No matter how you look at it, it is an evil act."

No, Iagorune: no matter how you look at it, it's "evil." Other people really do have a more objective eye.

Objectivity's not "evil," Iagorune. For me, it's the exact opposite. My understanding the uses of and limits to reason as it relates to my justification of my emotional reaction to external stimuli is really helpful in my getting along with others on the planet.

I've also found it helpful in conversation to use more "I" statements than "you" statements.

YMMV.

3/02/2006 04:17:00 PM  
Blogger Iagorune said...

Faboofor

Since I’m something of an agnostic, I can’t really address the religious aspects of your post, so sorry about not talking about the natural innocence of children stuff.

Also, I’m sorry, but while I will freely admit that I don’t really know if morals are instinctive or instructed, I do know that there is such a thing as right and wrong, and I also know that right and wrong is not always a subjective matter.

Your argument just doesn’t convince me. Just because someone can convince himself that something monstrous is acceptable doesn’t make it true. Or more bluntly, just because “you” can think of a scenario where the rape / murder of a child is an acceptable situation doesn’t actually make it acceptable or moral.

Did the fact that Ted Bundy could convince himself that beating pretty brunettes to death after torturing them for days was no big deal, actually make those murders acceptable?

Of course not.

Just because someone can imagine a scenario where something isn’t evil, doesn’t make it so.

- rick

3/02/2006 06:07:00 PM  
Blogger David Cutler said...

I like Miller's writing. I think it's interesting, thought-provoking, layered, and fun. I don't, however, agree with any of it on a political or social level, and his presentation of women I find to be so appalling it's almost absurd. It's sort of a love-hate relationship that I really can't say I have with any other writer or artist.

I think part of Miller's totalitarian issues stem from the traits of superhero comics themselves. No matter how liberal a superhero character seems or 'claims' to be, no matter how much they battle against government forces or fight for the poor, the underlying myth of superheroes is a conservative one. Lone, special individuals rising above the rest to protect weak society, who work outside or above the law, answering to no one. It's kind of a neat dichotomy. And Miller heroes exemplify this model to the nth degree.

On the other hand, it's often been said that in your average superhero story, the villain actually serves as the protagonist--it's the villain that is trying to achieve something/change society and the hero is the antagonist that exists to stop him. In Miller's works, scoeity is almost always broken--it's a crumbling, decaying mess that already belongs to the villains, and change is in the hands of the hero. In this respect I'd be more apt to put Miller on the liberal end of the spectrum, but still, the idea remains that society is to be changed by lone exceptional individuals ruling the masses, and not real collective action.

One of the most complicated parts of assessing Miller's politics is the issue of irony. Some of his totalitarian presentation of heroic characters is so over the top, when viewed along side the degree to which he's mastered the nuts and bolts of the medium, it's almost impossible not to believe he's satirizing the way superheroes are already portrayed and pointing up the dangers in diefying powerful figures. But really, though we may hope that's what he's saying, I don't think the text supports such an argument.

I read a lot into the final pages of DKR. To me, it seemed Bruce had abandoned a lot of the superhero dressings that made him the self-appointed godlike protector of the weak and frightened masses. He was now one of them, working with them to change society through collective action, as a man, not a revered leader. In those closing panels he was discussing, involving Robin and the Sons of the Bat, working with the youth to make a better world. In my mind. But as DKSR revealed, this was not the case. Batman is once again using stupid, misguided kids to enforce his morality upon society. He isn't Bruce, he's "boss".

I'm starting to ramble (I just got in from a backshift at work and I'm so tired I have no idea what I'm saying) so I'll try to sum things up. There's lots of ways to read Miller's work. Some look at government tool Superman in DKR and see liberal-minded anti-totalitarianism, think for yourself and the like. But really, Superman has failed not because he follows the government but because the government should be following him. He is superior. He's of a stronger, smarter race.

You know, when I first read Ray Kurzweil's The Age of Spiritual Machines, I was so frightned by the predictions I believed Kurzweil was as well, and the book was a warning. Later I discovered Kurzweil actually supports technological posthumanism. I read the book again, and there it was. Similarly, in the end of DKSR, still I want to believe Miller shares my politics. I want to see satire, some sense of fear that superheroes have effectively taken over the earth. And sometimes I do. But deep down I'm just waiting for Dark Knight Kicks Ass One More Time where Miller shows us the wonderful crimeless utopia Superman has created... I don't know. I need sleep.

(Nice blog!)

3/03/2006 07:14:00 AM  
Blogger faboofour said...

Iagorune said...

"...I do know that there is such a thing as right and wrong, and I also know that right and wrong is not always a subjective matter."

This is where we part ways: While I, too, know that there is such a thing as right and wrong, I also know, without a shadow of a doubt, that the perception of right and wrong is ALWAYS a subjective matter. Without exception.

For example, you say:

"Did the fact that Ted Bundy could convince himself that beating pretty brunettes to death after torturing them for days was no big deal, actually make those murders acceptable?"

My answer is: To me, no. That's my subjective opinion. To Ted Bundy, yes. That's his subjective opinion. Or, citing a crime more similar to your original scenario, it wasn't "evil" to Dan Lafferty that he murder his sister-in-law and his fifteen-month-old niece. It was, according to him, an act dictated by God Himself. Your subjective opinion, I'd hope, differs from Mr. Lafferty's. But's it's still a subjective opinion. My subjective opinion, my belief (in my dictionary, opinion and belief are synonomous), if you will, is that we as a society ought to put Mr Lafferty as far away from society as we possibly can. I personally don't think killing him is a good idea because then we can't change our minds later if we want, but others don't have such qualms.

But let's not forget that there are lots of people out there beside Dan Lafferty who believe that God Himself speaks to them, that they act only due to His Divine Will, and many of these people have literally millions of others who believe and follow them. Jim Jones, George W. Bush, David Koresh, Pat Robertson, Pope Benedict, Reverend J. R. "Bob" Dobbs. Do we remove these people from society or do we wait until they do something we perceive as hurtful? What do we perceive as hurtful? Brainwashing people to drink poisoned kool-aid? Denying the Holocaust while it was occuring? Blaming the destruction of the Twin Towers on homosexuality?

It's all subjective. All of it. What I'd like (a subjective opinion) is that our "norms" be dictated by logic and reason, but, sadly (another subjective opinion) that's not always the case.

Subjectivity isn't any more or less "evil" than objectivity. Our social norms are all subjective. They are "norms" because they, in fact, make subjective sense to most of us. When the "norms" stop making sense, we change them (like the "norm" of women as property, as someone else mentioned here). The senses we have are quite sufficient to perceive why we should be more tolerant of one act and less tolerant of another. No supernatural power or intervention is required.

Here are more examples of "evil" acts of children being murdered and the people who were directly responsible for their murders:

Did the fact that Harry Truman could convince himself that dropping an atomic bomb on Nagasaki was justifiable, actually make those murders acceptable?

Did the fact that Winston Churchill and Franklin Delano Roosevelt could convince themselves that firebombing Dresden was justifiable, actually make those murders acceptable?

Did the fact that Richard Nixon could convince himself carpet-bombing Cambodia was justifiable, actually make those murders acceptable?

Did the fact that William Sherman could convince himself that burning Atlanta to the ground was justifiable, actually make those murders acceptable?

Did the fact that George W. Bush could convince himself that the "Airpower used to secure the roads leading to Bagdad" was justifiable, actually make those murders acceptable?

Of course not?

We're not talking about one or two, or even a few, children being murdered. We're in the hundreds and thousands with each of these examples.

I only wish we could objectify "good" and "bad", 'cuz it sure make life a whole heck of a lot easier.

3/03/2006 05:45:00 PM  
Blogger Iagorune said...

faboofour,

Please don't misunderstand me here.

I certainly think that you are allowed to hold whatever opinion on the subjectivity of Good and Evil that you want. And I don’t disagree that there are situations involving murder, death and destruction that are just chock full of subjectivity.

But nothing that you’ve written, or that anyone else ever has written has come anywhere close to convincing me that there is not such a thing as right and wrong, or good and evil, nor as there been any evidence presented to convince me that the entire subject of morality, right and wrong, good and evil is completely subjective.

It simply doesn’t matter if the person committing an evil act is 100% certain that the action they are taking is pure and innocent. The action itself is still evil.

Does that mean every “evil” action is simply evil without any subjective wiggle room?

No.

Like I’ve said several times, there are all sorts of extreme situations where the morality of the action is subjective.

However, it’s also just like I also said before, in some cases, sometimes though it’s not.

Sometimes evil is just evil.

I’m not trying to convince you that I’m right, that’s not my job.

And I know that I sound really obnoxious saying this.

But on this subject I am 100% completely, unshakably, right.

- rick

3/03/2006 06:40:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

And I know I may sound obnoxious, too!

But I am the one who is 100% right, Rick. Not you.

Let's get that straight. I am right. God and all the universe agree with me. You other people sometimes approach 100% rightness, and good for you that you do. Keep working at it. Only know that you can only get up to about 99.9%, okay? Because where you and I differ, it's you that have fallen from good sense, as far as I'm concerned. I don't blame you for it. But that doesn't make it any less true.

Essentially what we're saying here, right? Except I happen to know that it only applies to me. Sorry. That's just plain inarguable fact. I mean I'm not accusing anybody of anything, I'm just saying let's call a spade a spade.

Conceptions of morality = relative.

Conceptions of justice = absolute.

So, we can all weigh in on things now, right?

3/04/2006 12:59:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You know, secure in the knowledge that I will be the final arbiter of who is right and who is wrong.

And please: don't bother denying it. You'll only be wrong again.

3/04/2006 01:02:00 AM  
Blogger Iagorune said...

Anonymous said...
You know, secure in the knowledge that I will be the final arbiter of who is right and who is wrong.


In a way I have to admit that I actually get sort of a weird kick out of seeing how upset some people have gotten by my saying that raping and murdering children is always wrong.

It's almost as if the very concept of extremes is somehow beyond the very concept of consideration.

Which is odd when you figure that the world is full of extreme situations.

As it stands in this particular case, please allow me to play along like any other eight year old, and point out that in fact I am right, and you are wrong.

But please feel free to tell me otherwise. As it is, since we've fallen into the "I know you are but what am I zone", I'll wish you all well am move along to this weeks Comics Urban Legend post instead.

- rick

3/04/2006 02:13:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh, why don't you just pick up your marbles and run home, Rick? By my lights what you believe is the purest manure: LOVE to see the roses you could grow in that stuff! And when you say you get a "weird kick" from this, guess what? I'm inclined to believe you.

And thus, I'm inclined to dismiss you.

So back it up, or back it out, Rick! Money where the mouth is, Rick! Sure, I get really upset when people say child rape and murder is wrong, of course I do! Hey, how could I not? Doesn't everybody?

What a load of...! You've got your damn nerve saying something like that, and as far as I can tell you're a hypocrite to boot. Sure, you'll say controversial things online, and dare people to contradict you, but if they do, then whoa! Hey! You weren't expecting that, hey that is just not polite! Hey, all you're doing is expressing your opinion...!

Yeah, well, guess what. I'm expressing mine, too, and mine is that your opinion is junk, and that this conversation's over. And you can make whatever knee-jerk stew you want out of that; in fact I wish you joy of it.

See you in Limbo. I'll be the guy with the club.

3/04/2006 07:32:00 AM  
Blogger Iagorune said...

Anonymous said all sorts of things

Well good morning to you to Mister Grouchy Drawers.

Kind of ironic that someone who doesn’t even post using a name is getting angry at me for not being willing to stand by what I have to say.

But look, I don’t hold that against you and I will admit that my final post last night was written when I was really tired and probably didn’t get my point across in the best possible way that I could have.

So let me try again.

You have every right to believe anything that you want to believe, but that doesn’t mean that what you believe is actually, you know, right.

And I’m certain that in most cases that rule certainly applies to me as well.

Just not this time.

There is such a thing as right and wrong, good and evil.

Sorry, but that’s just how it is.
It does really strike me as odd and as I said before, funny, that there are people, in this case specifically you, who seem to think that the very idea of right and wrong, good and evil is somehow amazingly, shockingly, controversial, when the reality is that in one form or another the idea of right and wrong, good and evil is the foundation for every set of laws for every society that has ever existed.

Also doesn’t it hit you as at least a bit disturbing that you are getting so completely worked up about the fact that I said that raping and murdering children is always wrong? Or is it just the fact that I said you were wrong that’s got your panties in such a bunch in the first place? Honestly I’m not sure which.

You don’t have to embrace my opinion. You can certainly declare it junk or whatever you want. But from what I’ve read on this thread, you haven’t done a single thing to disprove it.

I mean come on man, the best any of you have been able to come up with to prove that morality is always subjective is to tell me that Ted Bundy is welcome to his opinion on brunettes, and that if a woman had thousands of children then maybe it might be alright to murder a few of them to make some room on an island.

You’ll forgive me for not falling on my knees and instantly embracing the amazing Socratic thought that went into those statements.

So good luck, best wishes with the subjective morality and all that, and if we do somehow end up together in the mythical land of Limbo, I’ll suggest that you put down the club and that instead we just solve are differences the old fashioned way, by putting on the Desmond Decker 45’s and seeing just how low we can go.

Winner gets declared eternal philosophic champ for the cosmos.

But in the meantime I think that somehow I will manage to muddle along with the moral center I have and not be particularly worried about the fact that you think this makes me a hypocrite.

It's a beautiful morning here in Colorado and I hope it's equally nice where you are. I'm off to teach a 15 year old how to drive and I suspect that if I survie the day I'll probably end up needing a good stiff drink.

Here's hoping that your day goes well.

- rick

3/04/2006 10:47:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Okay, maybe I was a little grouchy.

Still, one or two little points could stand making:

1. It isn't at all ironic that I question the validity of your belief while posting anonymously, I think you're searching for another word maybe. But it isn't relevant anyway.

2. I don't have to disprove your contention that there is absolute good and evil. But if you want to talk irony, then that you're attempting to claim the idea is true because it cannot be disproved fits that bill pretty well...if you reject all possibility of it being disproved, then saying it's true because it hasn't been is just a lot of doubletalk.

3. It's far from axiomatic that good and evil exist, and that can be proved. But you are trying to get around this by saying that while there is absolute good and evil, there's also not-so-absolute good and evil, and for this theory you offer us the stunning Socratic proof that you believe you can tell the difference between them. Irony again! Because you're only arguing in a circle, and Socrates would have demolished you if you pulled that on him one time. So why should I let you off any easier? No, no matter how strong the state of believing you have is, it can never possess any magical logic-defeating power that makes me obligated to disprove your unprovable religious belief about good and evil "being absolutes even if they aren't absolute all the time". It just can't. And you're deluded if you think it can.

4. So by all means let's agree to disagree, I'm fine with that! I wouldn't ever want to argue with someone's religious beliefs, religious belief are wonderful things, and they make the world go 'round. Why I've even got a few of them myself. But just you keep things off the logical argument level until the day you can offer any argument, evidence, proof, etc. that I might find remotely convincing, yes me, not just you, because I don't want to hear your illegitimate reasoning anymore. No, as a matter of fact I don't believe you when you say "that's just how it is", sorry! Not good enough, I'm afraid! Pull the other one!

It is a nice day, you're right about that. My advice would be to get out there and enjoy it. But to be clear, we're done here.

3/04/2006 07:56:00 PM  
Blogger Iagorune said...

I agree, we are done.

Just one small, really minor thing, and I just mention it to clarify things.

You've made a couple of references to my religious beliefs, and how they affect my moral beliefs, but as I wrote before I don't actually have any religious beliefs.

My views on things are pretty much completly earthbound and have nothing to do with the concept of some big Cosmic Muffin in the sky.

Not that this changes any of the context of what we wrote, but it is something I thought I should mention.

- rick

3/04/2006 11:52:00 PM  
Blogger faboofour said...

Iagorune said...
"Please don't misunderstand me here."

Nope. No misunderstanding on my side, I think. So far, anyway.

"But nothing that you’ve written, or that anyone else ever has written has come anywhere close to convincing me that there is not such a thing as right and wrong, or good and evil,"

But here, if you're saying that I'm trying to "convince" you that there's "not such a thing as right and wrong," well, then, you're putting words in my mouth, and I do find that insulting.

I believe I unambiguously said that I, in fact, also believe that there is such a thing as right and wrong. I also believe in love and hatred, beauty and ugliness, pleasure and pain, comfort and misery. These are, to me, no less real than a chair or a computer.

But they are significantly different from a chair or a computer, in that they are intangible and wholly dependent upon the perceptions of an individual for their entire existence.

There is materiality to a chair. There's no materiality to "evil" or "love" or "pain." Just because I "love" my wife or comics or Snickers bars, it doesn't mean that your perceptions match mine. Just because a certain set of sound volumes and frequencies causes me to feel physical pain, it doesn't mean that you'll have the same physical reaction to those same sounds. Just because I find the announcement of a belief in the absolute certitude of perception an announcement of "evil" doesn't mean you do.

This is not "mere semantics." I grant you, much of it is semantics, but it's hardly "mere." How language affects our thoughts and perceptions is profound. Many people have trouble understanding this aspect of language: just because one can label an intangible perception with a concrete word, it doesn't make the intangible concrete. Just the word is objective, not what the word is communicating.

For a perception to be "objective", any two individuals would need to agree upon the perception without comment. If we both saw a "chair", we'd both have to agree without discussion between us that it's a "chair" before we could objectively label the object a chair. If you say, "That's Danish Modern furniture" and I say, "ecch, that's a bunch of crappy tubes, who'd want to sit on that!", then we've moved into subjectivity. The object hasn't changed, but our perceptions now differ as to what is or isn't a "chair."

Same thing for "evil." We can label something so, but putting a concrete label on something so intangible as visceral responses to external stimuli does not make those responses any more or less tangible.

(I could go into how different languages affect the thoughts and perceptions of different societies, but let's not.)

"Does that mean every “evil” action is simply evil without any subjective wiggle room?
"No."


Wrong. If that were the case, we wouldn't need judges and juries. All we'd need is a rulebook. Please don't take offense, but the mere existence of the court system itself is proof enough of the untenability of your belief system.

"Like I’ve said several times, there are all sorts of extreme situations where the morality of the action is subjective.
"However, it’s also just like I also said before, in some cases, sometimes though it’s not."


Correct me if I'm wrong here, but are you saying, then, that there are some acts so objectively evil that, therfore, one's response to that act acts need not be questioned? Are there some acts for which you would feel totally justified to "take the law into your own hands" and simply retaliate however you see fit because the "evilness" of the act that you're retaliating against would be so obvious to every other person on the planet that there would be no investigation, no questioning whatsoever by anyone of your retaliatory action?

Comic-book vigilantism is popular because it's a fantasy. It's a manifestation of our childish wish to objectify right and wrong. I hate to say this, but the vigilantism in comics is why people view comic books as "kids' stuff." It is "kids' stuff"! And that's not a bad thing: escape from reality through fantasy has served mankind well throughout its history. But when you act on immature fantasies, you end up with the Ku Klux Klan.

"And I know that I sound really obnoxious saying this.
"But on this subject I am 100% completely, unshakably, right."


Yes, you do.

This is, by the way, a perfect example of why the United States has become the most hated country on this planet.

3/05/2006 01:59:00 AM  
Blogger faboofour said...

Anonymous said...
"You know, secure in the knowledge that I will be the final arbiter of who is right and who is wrong.
"And please: don't bother denying it. You'll only be wrong again."


SFX: Sound of a steam/dry irony whizzing right over Iagorune's head...

3/05/2006 02:07:00 AM  
Blogger faboofour said...

Iagorune said:
"You've made a couple of references to my religious beliefs, and how they affect my moral beliefs, but as I wrote before I don't actually have any religious beliefs.
"My views on things are pretty much completely earthbound and have nothing to do with the concept of some big Cosmic Muffin in the sky."

I was going to ignore this, but since you've mentioned it yet again I have to tell you, Iagorune, that your "there is such a thing as objective evil" belief system can, to my knowledge, only come from a corresponding belief in the supernatural.

(Actually, there's another explanation, but since I don't think it applies to you, I'll only mention it in passing at the end of this post.)

Obviously your belief system isn't based on logic, or sociological investigation, or physiology, or any non-supernaturally-based school of philosophical thought I've ever run across.

(If there's one I'm not aware if, please do enlighten me.)

You've admitted that "there are all sorts of extreme situations where the morality of the action is subjective," but "sometimes though it’s not." But you really haven't given us any information on how you make such a determination: When is the "evilness" of an act questionable and when is its certainty "absolute?" How do you know?

Only way I can figure is that you possess some supernatural power the rest of us lack.

Look out everyone, it's UNAMBIGUOUS BOY! ;)

Seriously, Iagorune, either you're belief system's based in the supernatural, or you're a megalomaniac narcissist (or is that redundant?): "My thoughts, emotions and perceptions are right and anyone who argues with them are wrong, wrong, wrong!! Mommy I need my diaper changed! NOW!!"

I'm giving you the benefit of the doubt and assuming you've a religious bent.

3/05/2006 02:46:00 AM  
Blogger faboofour said...

"Does that mean every “evil” action is simply evil without any subjective wiggle room?
"No."
Wrong.


Oops. Completely misread this statement. I read this to mean "some 'evil' actions are simply without subjective wiggle room".

Given that I was speaking to Iagorune's theorum that there are some actions that are objectively "evil", though, and there's no argument that this is his theorum, I don't think my misreading affects my argument.

3/05/2006 03:06:00 AM  
Blogger Iagorune said...

Guess I’m not finished after all.

I understand that we don’t agree, and I understand that you are quite offended that I consider the entire argument on the subjectivity of evil to be just so much philosophical masturbation. And I certainly can sympathize with the frustration you probably feel at having what you think of as a well thought out, logical argument, basically being dismissed out of hand

But the thing is that the argument for the subjectivity of evil, and I’m not talking about man made evils, like cheating on your taxes or having sex before marriage or societal things like that, but the real big ones, ones that involve power, pain, control and death, just doesn’t hold up.

The collective “We” has always known the difference even when we have happily embraced it.

Jump back to those Aztecs mentioned all those posts ago, and what do you get?

A group of people who committed horrible acts, not just to please their Gods, but also to show everyone the depths they would go to please those Gods. And by cutting out the still beating hearts of their enemies they also showed their foes that their God was stronger, more powerful and more formidable then their enemies, and that their enemies should tremble at how fearsome the Aztecs were, and just what was in-store for people who stood against them.

They killed the way they did because they recognized the “dark” power of what they were doing.

And again and again, this is true in every society that practiced either human sacrifice or cannibalism.

After all Cannibal societies almost never ate human flesh for sustenance. They ate people to absorb the strength and power of the devoured. They recognized that what they were doing was beyond the norm.

The Thugs killed pilgrims to honor Kali because they believed that their dark God demanded dark rites and large prices.

Abraham gets ready to sacrifice Isaac knowing that what his God is asking of him is beyond what any man should be asked to do.

In issues of power, pain control and death, humans have always recognized the power of these concepts and the harm caused by abusing them, even while they turned around and embraced them.

And as far as I can see even trying to be subjective about the truly monstrous just doesn’t work outside of a philosophical debate.

If you come across a dead, mutilated body while out for your morning walk, the first thing that flashes through your brain isn’t going to be you trying to figure out if the person who committed the act had a good reason for doing what they did. Your first thought, after you scream, throw up, whatever, is going to be a big rush of fear as you suddenly worry that the person who did the killing and mutilation to the body is going to come back and try to do the same thing to you.

Your cerebellum knows that you’ve run into some serious evil shit and it kicks in all of your instinctive reactions to protect you from harm. Even if you have never seen a dead body in your life, unless you are the youngest of infants, you know that what you have found is seriously wrong.

So forget subjectivity. As cliché as it sounds, when it comes to killing, the only way to have any objectivity on the issue is to look at things from the point of view of the victim.

The killer thinking that he didn’t do anything wrong, doesn’t make it so. The real question should be what would the victim think about their killing. Sure the guy strapped to the gurney might think he is being murdered, but at least he knows what he did to get him there. The mutilated corpse didn’t have a choice.

Power, pain, control and death.

They are the ones that count and they are the ones that we all recognize all the way down to our DNA when we see them abused, even when we are the ones doing the abuse. Maybe it is extreme of me to name these abuses as “evil”, but I can’t really think of any other term that could apply.


So that is my best attempt to explain myself. While I seriously doubt that I have convinced anyone of anything, and I really doubt that I have changed anyone’s mind. What it comes down to for me is that we can talk about theoretical situations all we want, but the reality of a corpse trumps hypothetical.

I believe this completely.

And while I am sorry that my certainty offends you, I am not sorry that I am certain.

- rick

(proving once again that he just doesn't know when to let go)

3/05/2006 04:04:00 AM  
Blogger Iagorune said...

Frank Who?????

Bat What????

Comics? What's a comic?

- rick

3/05/2006 04:13:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Guess I'm not all done, either. Hi, Rick.

This "dark power" thing...I would be very surprised to learn that you're qualified to speak with authority on any of these other cultures, and what supra-ethical bargains they believe their religions demand from them. Note that the whole thing your specific argument turns on here is that they know what they are doing - you've said that! So clearly you'll be absolutely right, or absolutely wrong, depending on how they would characterize the moral content of their ceremonies. And I don't claim to be an expert, but: ritual cannibalism "absolute evil"? Kali, a dark goddess whose dark rites demand dark sacrifices? Putting the cart a little bit before the horse there, aren't you? If you're not religious, then why does all this sound so TV-movie Satanic?

(By the way, that other fellow made my point for me: the way I read it, logically unsupportable belief is pretty much religious belief by definition, and that's all I meant to say)

Seriously, the dark rites of the pagan cultures, is that what you're invoking here? What are you, a 17th-century missionary? I think this is ethnocentric hogwash, at best it's mote-in-the-eye stuff and at worst it's some kind of cultural imperialism or something. And just for a kicker, you know as far as the law is concerned there are no "made-up" crimes to be contrasted against "real" crimes either? Theft is on Moses' tablets right there along with murder, and if theft doesn't have to do with power and pain and control and even death then I don't see how anything does. So if you cheat on your taxes - cheat on them - you should go to jail, because theft isn't trivial. And, neither is this trivial either: have sex before marriage and the law doesn't care if you do or not, so go ahead, it's a free country! Eh? So what is this "man-made" evil crap, the one thing you mentioned isn't "man-made", and the other one just isn't evil at all in any way so no one makes it period. Not in this country at least, damn it.

As to the objectivity of victims, I have to tell you that this is just more circular logic again. Naturally if you have already named somebody a victim, their reports of being one will only confirm your assumption that that's what they are. So what does that prove? Nothing. If you've already made up your mind, then you might as well not even ask them. Again, this is what we have courts for, to say nothing of the fact that this is what we have the presumption of innocence for. That's what a trial is meant to determine: who the victim is, and who it isn't. And if it was so easy to do, we wouldn't need courts at all, just pocket calculators. Personally, the words "objectivity" and "victim" being in the same sentence makes me shudder with the premonition of a dystopia...

And for the record, once again, it is the argument for the objectivity of evil that doesn't hold up, because that argument hasn't been made, at least not here. I'm sorry, but it hasn't: only your assertion has been made. And, to go further, one of the real problem of our times may be just that, that the argument for the subjectivity of good and evil does hold up, except we don't really want it to. We feel that it shouldn't, but it does, and that puts us in a bit of a quandary about whether we should trust a quantifiable reason that doesn't appeal to us, or an unquantifiable "instinct" that does.

Me, I choose instinct much of the time. But I choose it, that's the point.

Well, I certainly didn't expect to be back here, but I guess I am! Hope you had a nice day in the sun, Rick. I feel not at all grouchy anymore. So shall we go on and apply all this stuff to the morality of the War On Terror, and through that to Batman?

Ah, but that's what we've been doing this whole time, don't you see?

3/05/2006 09:18:00 AM  
Blogger Iagorune said...

Actually my unknown friend, I think that I am done. Although you know how that kind of things works, so no promises.

I did my best to explain what I see and apparently I didn't do a very good job of it because there you are talking about religion / spirtuality again.

And these things honestly have nothing at all to do with my obervation. Although I will admit that when I used the term "dark", I was half worried that someone would take that as a religious inference.

So unless, I suddenly have a major relevation, that suddenly allows me to clearly and precisely walk you hand in hand through what I am saying, I just don't see where I'm going to do much more then waste both are times, repeating myself over and over, while you do that same.

You certainly have the right to think that everything you do and every decision that you make, and every feeling that you have is a conscious decision on your part.

But that doesn't mean that I am ever going to agreee with you in the slightest and I am pretty certain that you are never going to agree with me. So at this point the conversation is simply another version of the argument clinic.

It really just comes down to my saying that I'm right, you're wrong. And then switching off while you do the same thing.

It's to much like a broken pencil to go on.

Today I've got to drive 80 miles up into the mountains to drop off some groceries to my little old Ma and just won't have the time to post anyway.

Again, it's a beautiful day and all, but so far I've managed to miss out on the calm relaxing part of the weekend.

Still the drive to Guffey is mighty nice.

- rick

3/05/2006 11:55:00 AM  
Blogger Tom Foss said...

Haven't read the other comments yet, but I'm getting a distinct Ayn Rand vibe from a lot of the Miller philosophy as you explain it. Perhaps not "fascism" but "tyranny of the elite" would be a better descriptor.

3/05/2006 01:18:00 PM  
Blogger faboofour said...

Iagorune said...
Jump back to those Aztecs mentioned all those posts ago, and what do you get?
A group of people who committed horrible acts, not just to please their Gods, but also to show everyone the depths they would go to please those Gods. And by cutting out the still beating hearts of their enemies they also showed their foes that their God was stronger, more powerful and more formidable then their enemies, and that their enemies should tremble at how fearsome the Aztecs were, and just what was in-store for people who stood against them.
They killed the way they did because they recognized the “dark” power of what they were doing.
And again and again, this is true in every society that practiced either human sacrifice or cannibalism.
After all Cannibal societies almost never ate human flesh for sustenance. They ate people to absorb the strength and power of the devoured. They recognized that what they were doing was beyond the norm.
The Thugs killed pilgrims to honor Kali because they believed that their dark God demanded dark rites and large prices.


With all due respect, Iagorune, you havn't a clue about what you're talking about. It's patently clear that you know nothing about the cultures you mention except, possibly, from what you've read from comic books, and what you do know has been badly skewed by a overbearing Judeo-Christian bias, with a little bit of Star Wars thrown in.
"Dark Power," indeed!

Abraham gets ready to sacrifice Isaac knowing that what his God is asking of him is beyond what any man should be asked to do.

You miss the entire intent of this Biblical story, Iagourne. It's not the "human sacrifice" aspects that upsets Abraham: known historical artifact show that human sacrifice was in fact well established in the areas now refered to as Biblical Israel and Judea. It was that fact that God was asking Abraham to sacrifice his "favored" son that made him upset. (The story is actually a justification for the Israelites to lay claim to the covenant that would have rightly gone to first-born Ishmael, but that's another story altogether).

Iagorune, if you're going to use examples from history to advance your arguments, at least become knowledgable about them. Else you come off as a pretentious teenager.

3/05/2006 11:19:00 PM  
Blogger Iagorune said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

3/06/2006 02:37:00 AM  
Blogger Iagorune said...

Actually, don't bother.

I was sitting here typing up another response when it hit me that I was spending my entire evening writing messages about something that I didn’t really care about. And it’s just mostly because I hate not to get the last word.

Apparently I have fallen into one of the old Internet traps that used to cause me all sorts of posting problems.

Here I am defending my beliefs as if it actually matters, to two people who I don't even know, or really care about, when originally I was talking about a Frank Miller funny book.

This is one of my worst habits and it's actually been a big enough problem to actually get me in real trouble before.

So nothing personal, especially since I in fact have no personal knowledge of you whatsoever, since the one guy was anonymous and you keep your profile hidden, but honestly I don’t really care if you agree or not. I mean I know Greg, I know Brian, I know all sorts of people here, but you guys are just voices in the ether.

So why in the Hell am I wasting my time arguing with air?

Geez, I could just smack myself.

Look, In wish you well and feel free to take my abandonment of this stupid debate any way you want, and I promise to eventually read whatever gets posted. But I feel like a complete schumk for getting into this kind of stupid argument in the first place.

Hatcher was right, I react to quickly for my own good.


- rick

3/06/2006 03:05:00 AM  
Blogger faboofour said...

As Unka Walt allus said, "Don't take life serious, cuz it ain't nohow permanent."

Namaste.

3/06/2006 02:15:00 PM  
Blogger Shamus said...

I don't think Miller is a fascist but he does glorify violence in the service of domination. So in that he certainly isn't any better than a fascist. 300 is actually a politically scary story.

predictably you'll take some flak for your observations but I'm glad someone is noticing.

3/17/2007 06:49:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

John Cormier wrote:

"I have a strange relationship with his work. The more I think about it, the less I like it. But when I read it, I can get caught up in the story very easily. "

Sounds like fascism to me... or at least fascist-style propaganda. Black and white is very, very alluring until you stop and think about it for a minute.

3/25/2008 08:18:00 PM  
Blogger mochi said...

I DO THINK THAT FRANK MILLER IS A TOTAL FASCIST AND HE SHOULD GET SOME HISTORY LESSONS.
300 IS SUCH A PROPAGANDISTIC MOVIE GEEZ.
I HOPE HE'LL DIE SOON COZ HE'S KINDA CREEPY LATELY AND HE LOOKS SO BAD.

6/11/2008 07:31:00 PM  
Anonymous Inkblot said...

First of all, very insightful and in-depth stuff. Whether or not Miller is a fascist in real life, he definitely is one in his writing.

While I haven't read all of his work, I have read some of his less popular stuff and there is a constant theme of the 'good ol true blue hero' stopping the world dominating tyrant. Perhaps there is a wee bit of human libertarianism in there as both Martha Washington and Ronin both have computers who decide that they are superior enough to rule properly, and the human has to stop it. The only reason I don't think the hero in these stories set themselves up as ruler, and this is probably a big reach, is because they are loyal women. Martha Washington is an incredibly intelligent, strong, capable and ambitious person, but at the end of the day, paradoxically, her only real ambition is to find her worthy mate. ??? Maybe in the rest of her series there's more to it than that, but it seems to be cutting the character in half.

There is one thing that I'd disagree about your summary, and that's when you get to weak characters. Androgynous works a bit for them, but (and you were so close to coming up with another good point) at the least, pseudo homosexual is what I'd characterize them as. The joker and Dick Grayson in DKR and DKSA clearly have sexual desires towards Batman. Miller even goes so far as to have Batman (possibly mockingly) return those desires to Dick in DKSA. Stuff like that even shows up in Ronin.

One of the characters in Ronin, the scientist who created the AI that goes wacko, isn't homosexual, but a bit effeminate. And of course, as he is weak, (merely hoping for a better tomorrow) he becomes absorbed by the demon and turned evil. Also, the title hero ronin is wandering through the ghetto at one point and meets up with none other than a nazi gang of headed up by a queen and his super-butch body guard. What does that tell you?

Miller seems to somehow equate homosexuality with weakness in his writing mythology, but at the same time has no logical problems making that weakness strong enough to be a valid, evil threat. Strong enough at least to give the true hero a decent enough fight. It's so weirdly contradictory that I'm not even sure I've made a clear point. I haven't read 300, but I wouldn't at all be surprised if Xerxes was pretty much gay too. It's like, in order to maximize the evil, he's gone the traditional route of 'having your cake and eating it too' of the fascist characterization of the enemy. The jews were somehow both weak, pathetic, lazy yet strong, vicious, and unrelenting in their threat to the Nazi mindset. With contradictions like that, it's no wonder fascists go nuts.

As a side note, some of you may be pretty confused by the references to Ronin, it's a weird book, but a very good one. I'd say that of all the Miller stuff I've read, it's the peak of both his writing and art. Not to say that he hasn't done great stuff before and after, but they get more attention because they're done with popular characters. And usually you seem to get one or the other in terms of what Miller put his effort into. With Dark Knight Strikes Again, I can almost see him slapping around the paintbrush on some pages. Ronin, for my money is the best combination of both art and story, so go read it already!

9/09/2008 12:54:00 PM  
Blogger mrchrishunt said...

Just for the record, Miller is a self proclaimed Liberal of the Classical sense, which barely resembles the modern definition. Essentially, Frank is fiscally conservative and socially liberal, similar to Libertarianism, however he does ascribe to Natural Law. Trully, he's an Anarcho Capitalist, please by all means, wikipedia the word, I'm sure most of you haven't ever heard of it.

He is a proponent of individual freedom, and the above mentioned philosophy actually calls for the abolishment of society in EVERY way, even national defense. You really think someone who hates the government so much, is a proponent of a strong central government?

The point is, if you see facism in his stories, they are there for a reason. To show you how ridiculous and fucked up they are, and how in many ways we are close to sanctioning such a world for ourselves.

Free trade= A Free Mind

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Anonymous Generic Cialis said...

I have never considered him a fascist but now that you mention you make a lot of good points to think on. I will definitely pay a closer attention to his work and see if i can find all this you talk about.

9/03/2010 05:55:00 PM  
Anonymous Buy Cialis said...

Under your definition of Fascist the work of Miller does tend to look like that, the problem is that you are using your definition and that can be confusing, because your definition as Iagorune said.

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Anonymous Judy said...

As a woman, I say that he is completely right in regarding Frank Miller's portrayal of women. It might be feminist, but its also fact.

Men might want to be batman, but no woman wants to be wonderwoman. No women is turned on by a men drooling after a superheroine that looks like a stripper. Fact. In fact this is why argubly some women stay away from comic book readers in general.

3/23/2011 11:10:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I cant agree that Fascism is only defined by the mid 20th century version, that it admits of no other interpretations, though that is certainly the common modern view of it - but lest we forget, the Fasces was a Roman symbol originally, (where the mid 20th century term ispired from) that indicated the State reserved the right to physically punish or execute its own citizens threatening the public order. It had not so much a political slant as a more humble policing usage, and no Roman political alignments particularly advocated or abjured it - it had about as much political meaning for them as Augustus' by-laws about fire-safety with the Vigilii. Its worth noting that symbolic Fasces appear each side of the speaker's rostra in the US senate house, and that US police forces have fired on US citizens during riots - but the US does not define itself as Fascist in the mid-20th century meaning of the term.

8/23/2011 05:13:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

reading this

http://frankmillerink.com/2011/11/anarchy

i think that you 5 years ago analysis is really impressive!

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